An OECD report launched this week says agricultural policies must be urgently reformed to support food security and nutrition, livelihoods and environmental sustainability.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the agricultural sector receives US$708 billion per year in support, much of which has the effect of distorting the food system and causing negative environmental effects.
These policies are responsible for overproduction and the overuse of land and water.
Launched yesterday, ahead of this year’s Food System’s Summit, over a Zoom conference, the report is called Making better policies for food systems.
It says agricultural policies around the world often create incentives for overproduction and the overuse of land and water.
2 billion people do not have regular access to enough safe and nutritious food
They also limit the flexibility of producers. This reduces the resilience of food systems to adapt to new technologies, changing consumer demands, and climate change.
The reform that’s needed takes political leadership, cooperation and communication at all levels.
Overproduction tends to harm farmers by reducing prices. Lower prices for consumers don’t reflect the product’s cost to the environment. So as well as changing the way farmers receive government support, environmental regulations or agri-environmental payments, are needed.
Although food production has quadrupled since the Sixties, more than meeting population growth, which has doubled, 2 billion people do not have regular access to enough safe and nutritious food.
- 570 million farms worldwide are under strain because of the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Agricultural expansion is the threat to almost all – 80% – of endangered birds and mammals.
- Food production accounts for up to 37% of greenhouse gas emissions.
The report studies the impact good policy can have via the use of seeds, through managing livestock and working with businesses in the processed foods sector.
Palm oil production is used as an example of policy’s complex connections. Demand has grown for palm oil as a replacement ingredient in processed foods, since trans fats were banned in the US and Canada because they are bad for health.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s main suppliers of palm oil and its production has helped to support the livelihoods of many farmers in these countries.
However, palm oil consumption is linked with death from heart disease. Increased demand has also led to large-scale deforestation, and slash-and-burn production is bad for the health of those living nearby.
Decreasing demand, in response, could negatively impact the livelihoods of many Indonesians and Malaysians.
This underscores the importance groups such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to improve the environmental performance of the sector and address food security concerns among rural people in palm oil producing regions.
The OECD’s new Food Systems portal includes policy briefs and a search engine for food systems research.